Recycle Right

Proper Recycling Practices

What's accepted for recycling in my curbside recycling program? What materials are accepted at a recycling drop-off location?

The following items are accepted in all curbside recycling programs in Franklin County and are accepted at SWACO recycling drop-off locations. The illustration also indicates the items that are NOT accepted.

Curbside Materials

Mix all accepted items together – no separation required. Please do not bag recyclables (the bags get caught in the processing equipment.)  Bags can be recycled at most grocery stores at other locations that can be found here

Recycle & Reuse Search Tool

Labels don’t need to be removed but these materials should be free of food and liquid. After emptying plastic bottles and jugs, replace the lids so that they can be recycled too (loose lids will not be recycled).  

Cardboard boxes should always be flattened.

When recycling aerosol cans, empty the can completely and remove the tips.

Recycle & Reuse Search Tool

Why can't I bag my recyclables?

Clean plastic bags can easily get caught in recycling sorting machine gears. Simply place loose recyclables directly into your curbside recycling bin or a drop-off bin. Plastic bags are 100% recyclable if done correctly. Most grocery stores provide a container to recycle your plastic bags, so they can easily be recycled when you shop for groceries.  Please be sure to recycle your plastic bags at a Bring Me Back location near you. For a map of locations and more information about this program, click here.

Why is it important to flatten cardboard boxes before placing them in my container?

Cardboard boxes take up a lot of space in the recycling container. Breaking them down, or flattening them before placing them in the curbside or drop-off container saves space and creates additional capacity to recycle even more items.

What do I do with prescription drugs?

There are lots of locations in Franklin County that will accept prescription drugs for proper destruction and disposal. SWACO has a variety of resources available regarding prescription drug disposal.

I recycle everything, even if I'm not sure if it's accepted. Is this okay?

Recycling has become part of the culture in Franklin County. People care about preserving natural resources and creating local jobs. While wanting to recycle everything is admirable, ‘wish-cycling’ can negatively impact the amount of materials you actually recycle.

Sorting facilities are highly engineered to deal with certain material types, and when other goods are introduced into the system many things can go wrong. The first step of this sorting process requires people to sort out contamination. The cleaner the material is of potentially dangerous or unaccepted items, the safer the workers are and the less likely the machines are to get jammed. 

Metal hangers, hoses, and plastic bags can easily get caught in machine gears and lead to a work stoppage or costly repair. Please be sure to recycle your plastic bags at your local grocery store or at another Bring Me Back location near you to keep the recycling process running smoothly. 

Likewise, putting batteries into the recycling can also create a dangerous working environment for employees because batteries can cause fires in these facilities. Please find a location near you to recycle your batteries using our Recycling and Reuse Search Tool. Items that aren’t accepted for recycling but are placed into the recycling bin anyway, just take a long detour to the landfill at an additional significant expense. These materials are not recycled if they aren’t listed as accepted.

What do the numbers of plastics mean?

There are seven types of consumer plastic or resin, each with unique characteristics. A recycling symbol with or without a number doesn’t necessarily indicate that an item is accepted for recycling. The numbers on plastic are an identification code communicating what type of plastic resin the item is made from. In Franklin County, the number of a plastic doesn’t matter. You only need to look at the shape of a container to know if you can put it in your bin. As long as the plastic is a bottleneck or jug shape then it’s accepted. The simplest rule to remember is whether the bottle or jug has a neck that is smaller than the base of the container.  As long as it is shaped like a bottle or jug, and the neck is smaller than the base, you can put it in your recycling bin.  Say goodbye to the days when you had to read that tiny number!

Items Not Accepted for Recycling

What items are NOT accepted for recycling?

The following items are not currently accepted through Franklin County’s curbside recycling programs or at SWACO’s drop-off recycling locations.

Plastic: Containers that DO NOT have a bottleneck (a neck or top that is smaller than the base of the container). For example, yogurt cups, butter tubs, drinking cups, disposable storage containers, toys, plastic bags, plastic films and bubble wrap, plastic utensils and dinnerware, and clam shells like take-out containers and fruit containers.

Polystyrene foam or “Styrofoam” egg cartons, plates, cups, etc.

Glass: Ceramics, window or drinking glass, light bulbs and any other glass not in the shape of a bottle or jar.

Paper Items: Coffee cups and other disposable paper cups, plates, egg cartons, tissues, paper towels, etc. Receipts are not accepted because most are coated with plastic.

Drink Pouches

Metals: Coat hangers, pots and pans, steel scraps and any other metal not in the shape of a container. Foil is not accepted. Aluminum pie pans, lids, or trays are not accepted.

Sharps and Medical Waste: no needles or other medical wastes are accepted.  Hypodermic needles are dangerous for the workers involved in collecting and processing the recyclable materials.  Please – do not place any hypodermic needles in your recycling bins or containers.

Batteries: batteries are not recyclable through your curbside program and are not accepted at the drop-off locations.  Batteries are a significant cause of fires in recycling trucks and at recycling processing facilities. Do not place any batteries in your recycling bin or container.

Textiles and other “tanglers”:  Items like clothing, garden hoses, and extension cords can get caught up in the equipment that is used to process the recyclable materials.  These items are not recyclable in curbside programs or at drop-off locations and cause problems at the recycling facility.

Find out alternative options for how to properly dispose of these items

Why are certain items not accepted for recycling?

A complex set of factors governed broadly by supply and demand determine whether an item is accepted for recycling. An item is only accepted for recycling in your community if there is a demand for the recyclable material close enough to central Ohio to make the process of collecting and processing the material economically sustainable. If there are no companies in close proximity that will purchase the material and make a new product out of it, then it is not recyclable. There may be a company that uses the material to make a new product somewhere in the world (say Seattle), but the transportation costs to get the material to that factory would be cost prohibitive. Therefore, the material would be deemed unrecyclable in our area (but not necessarily in a region closer Seattle, in this example). Just because you see a recycling symbol on a plastic container doesn’t mean it is accepted for recycling where you live, it just means the item is recyclable ‘somewhere’.

How do I recycle items not accepted?

There are many ways to reuse, recycle, and safely dispose of other items that aren’t accepted in your residential recycling program. Questions about what to do with old electronics, chemicals, paint, batteries, and more? Use SWACO’s Reuse and Recycling Search Tool to help you quickly find a location near you accepting a wide range of items from tires to bicycles!

What do I do with my yard waste?

Dedicated loads of Yard Waste are banned from SWACO’s Franklin County Landfill by state law. Most Franklin County communities offer curbside yard waste collection services. Call your local government offices to determine whether your community offers this service. Residents in Franklin County may also take leaves, grass and brush to a compost facility.

You may also want to try backyard composting! A compost pile or bin is a great way to recycle yard waste and enhance your garden.

For more information, visit SWACO’s Yard Waste page.

How do I recycle plastic bags?

Plastic bags are not accepted in curbside or drop-off recycling bins. Plastic bags are big problems for our local recycling facility because bags can easily get caught in the equipment that processes the recyclable material. Please be sure to recycle your plastic bags at your local grocery store or at another Bring Me Back location near you to keep the recycling process running smoothly. Find a map of locations and more information about this program.

Is there anywhere I can recycle #5 plastics?

If you have #5 plastics and you would like to recycle them, you can participate in the national, free ‘Gimme 5‘ campaign available at Whole Foods. Just bring back your clean and dry #5 plastics to Whole Foods for recycling!

Are pizza boxes recyclable?

If your pizza boxes are not heavily contaminated with grease, they can be recycled. If grease has soaked the cardboard, this part of the box should be ripped off and the rest may be recycled. Grease from pizza boxes causes problems during the pulping process used to recycle paper fibers. Specifically, oil from the grease is very difficult to remove and inhibits the production of high quality paper products.  As long as the cardboard isn’t soaked with grease, please recycle this valuable material!

Are ice cream cartons recyclable?

Ice cream cartons are not recyclable in Franklin County curbside or drop-off programs.

Why aren't napkins, paper towels, or tissues accepted for recycling?

Soft paper products such as napkins, paper towels, and tissues don’t meet the quality standards necessary to turn them into new products.  Soft paper products are usually made from a high percentage of recycled paper, and each time natural fibers are recycled, they become shorter and shorter. After 5-7 times through the recycling process, paper fibers are too short to be recycled again.  However, these fibers are the perfect length for rapid composting! Compost your soft paper products or avoid them entirely with reusable options such as cloth napkins and hand towels. Think about it – for all of modern human history until recently people used cloth for cleaning up their messes and wiping their hands.

Why aren't coffee cups accepted?

To ensure cups holding liquid don’t get soggy, they are fused with polyethylene, a type of plastic. Since the cup is made of multiple layers of material, separating these materials isn’t possible in most standard recycling facilities. However, since there are advanced and specifically designed facilities in the world capable of recycling this material, companies creating the cups can claim they are ‘recyclable’. This is why you may see claims of “recyclable” on a cup, but don’t be fooled! In Franklin County, coffee cups are not accepted for recycling. The good thing is, you don’t have to contribute to the problem of coffee cups taking up space in the local landfill. Bring your own reusable cup or ask for a reusable mug if you will be enjoying your beverage at your favorite coffee spot! Many stores even give discounts for bringing your own mug – and they are typically spill-proof!

Why isn't Styrofoam accepted?

Expanded polystyrene (EPS), commonly called ‘Styrofoam’, is recyclable in some communities, but is not currently accepted anywhere in Franklin County.  Used Styrofoam cups cannot be easily recycled into new cups and there isn’t a market for this type of material locally. Additionally, Styrofoam isn’t very economical to transport because it is mostly made of air – so a semi-truck full of cups isn’t actually a large weight of material. Recycling, like all industries in the modern economy, relies on supply and demand. What can you do to combat Styrofoam waste? Encourage businesses using this material to opt for greener alternatives and bring your own container for leftovers or a cup for coffee.

Why aren't other plastics accepted?

There are a variety of different “resins,” or types of plastic used to make different plastic items.  Even within the same resin or plastic type there are different formulas that can be used depending on the desired properties of the plastic item being manufactured. As a result, not all plastics items are compatible with each other when it comes to recycling.

Plastic bottles and plastic cups, for example, are created in different ways. Plastic bottles are “blow molded,” which means the shape is made by blowing air into a mold, similar to blowing air into a balloon. A cup or tub shaped plastic item is “injection molded,” which means the plastic is “stamped” into shape. During these processes the plastic is melted and cooled at different temperatures and the plastic is formulated to have different properties in order to work properly with these different molding techniques. If these materials are melted down and a facility tries to mix these plastics, it is like trying to mix bubblegum and water.

In Franklin County and the surrounding area there is not a strong or consistent market for recycling plastic cups and tubs. As a result, the local recycling facility will only accept plastic bottles and jugs for recycling.

Why are aluminum and steel cans accepted but other metals aren't?

Since steel and aluminum cans are accepted for recycling, you may assume tossing an old screw or worn out pot into the curbside bin wouldn’t be a problem. However, the recycling processing facility has been designed specifically to identify and separate steel and aluminum cans.  Metals not shaped like a can can get caught in the separation machinery and cause problems, or get into other streams, like paper or  glass, and contaminate those materials.  The sorting facility wasn’t designed to handle irregularly shaped metals. You can take your scrap metals to local scrap metal facilities, or consider donation if the item you are trying to dispose of is still in usable condition.

Check out our Reuse and Recycling Search Tool to find locations for where to recycle or donate your item in question.

Recycling in Franklin County

What's our county's recycling rate?

According to data released by SWACO in 2017, Franklin County’s recycling and composting rate, known as a diversion rate, is 46.5% while the national average is only 34%. By working together as a community, we are preserving natural resources while helping to create jobs and support local industry.  Contact your municipality or township to learn more about your community’s recycling rate.

Why is recycling important?

Recycling creates a more resilient economy for local businesses and residents, provides opportunities for innovation and creates a brighter, safer future for all of us, including our kids.

Recycling does not just conserve natural resources like timber and minerals; it also reduces the amount of energy required to create goods. More efficient processes help reduce greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to adverse health impacts from air pollution and human-caused climate change.

Recycling also creates well-paying jobs in recycling and manufacturing industries. A study completed by SWACO in 2018 indicates that recycling-related industries in central Ohio employ an estimated 5,000 people and generate over a billion dollars in revenue annually.

In 2016, over 70% of landfilled materials in Franklin County could have been recycled and had a potential value of $41 million!

How do I recycle in my community?

Most communities in Franklin County provide curbside recycling for their residents. Call your community sanitation, refuse, or service department for information about pick-up schedules and other information on how to get started. If your community does not provide curbside service, see the next question about drop-off recycling opportunities.

I live in an apartment, condo or other multi-family housing unit and don't have curbside. Where can I recycle?

SWACO provides multiple drop-off recycling locations throughout Franklin County for those who don’t have curbside recycling or have excess materials to recycle. A list of available locations is available here. In 2017, over 14 million pounds of recyclable material was diverted from the Franklin County Sanitary Landfill through the Drop-Off program.

How can I report illegal dumping and littering?

SWACO funds the Environmental Crimes Task Force of Central Ohio program which allows residents to report illegal dumping and littering in Franklin County. For more information, visit the

It’s a Crime website.

The Recycling Process

What happens during the recycling process?

In Franklin County, most of the single stream recyclables are processed at Rumpke’s Columbus Material Recovery Facility (MRF), located near the Ohio State Fairgrounds. At the Rumpke MRF, co-mingled recyclables are sorted through a variety of mechanical and people power into their material types. Materials like plastic bottles and aluminum cans are then compressed into cubes called bales, and material types like glass are collected in large dumpsters. These commodities are sold to companies that process that material so new products can be made from recycled content.

Making products from recycled content helps reduce the amount of pollution and habitat destruction generated by creating goods from virgin materials. It’s important to remember that recycling takes a team effort.

Check out this short video for an overview of how recycling turns waste into resources.

How does a recycling facility work?

In Franklin County, when recyclables are collected from your curb or a drop-off box, they are delivered to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). At the MRF, people and specialized equipment is used to sort out the recyclables into different categories. A series of screens, blowers magnets, optical sorters (using lasers to identify the different materials) and other technologies are used to sort each material into bales. (Glass isn’t baled, instead it is typically crushed and collected in large dumpsters.) All of this material is sold to companies that make it into new products.

Check out this short video or virtual tour for a deeper dive:

MRF Video

Why are recycling and landfill bins sometimes emptied into the same container?

Some trucks or custodian carts have divided sections for recycling and trash, so it is possible that you are seeing one of these split containers or trucks in use. However, if recycling carts are too contaminated with non-recyclable items, then that material will not be accepted at the recycling facility and the material must be sent to the landfill. This is one of the reasons why understanding what’s accepted for recycling is so important! Recycling is subject to the old adage- one apple can ruin the bunch.

Why are recyclables not sorted out at the landfill?

Sorting recyclable materials out of mixed materials (trash) is difficult to do, can require significant capital investment, and has not proven itself to be a viable solution for the large-scale recycling of mixed residential waste.  This method can also result in materials that are difficult to sell on the commodity market. As a result, with today’s available technology it is not a viable option for the residential waste stream.

The best economic and environmental option is for residents, students, and businesses to reduce, reuse, and recycle in order to minimize how much they send to the landfill.

What's made from recycled plastic bottles?

Five 2-liter PETE bottles can make one square foot of polyester carpet and 35% of this type of carpet in the US is made from recycled plastic! 5 2-liter bottles can also make an XL t-shirt! The possibilities don’t stop there though- this material can also be used as fiberfill in a winter jacket or sleeping bag. In fact, many items made from plastic can be made from recycled plastic including car bumpers, sails for boats, parts for cars, chairs, and more bottles.

What's made from recycled aluminum cans?

Aluminum cans are recycled into new cans as well as car parts, window frames, wire, tubing and electronics. Aluminum placed in your recycling bin is more valuable than any other item in the recycling stream because it can be recycled endlessly without the material breaking down or decreasing in quality.  Recycling one cans saves enough energy to power a tv for 2 hours! Why? Creating goods from recycled content saves energy because it prevents the mining, transportation, and processing of virgin materials to make the item. Each step of the process extracting and processing virgin materials requires energy consumption which can be avoided by utilizing recycled content. According to the Aluminum Association, nearly 75 percent of all aluminum produced in the U.S. is still in use today.

What's made from recycled glass?

Glass can be endlessly recycled without decreasing quality. According to the Glass Recycling Association, 33% of new glass containers contain recycled glass and 60% of recycled glass is used for new containers or insulation. The Glass Packaging Institute (GPI) reports, “Over a ton of natural resources are conserved for every ton of glass recycled, including 1,300 pounds of sand, 410 pounds of soda ash, 380 pounds of limestone, and 160 pounds of feldspar”.  Additionally, according to GPI for every 6 tons of recycled glass, a ton of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas contributing to climate change, is reduced.

What's made from recycled cartons?

According to the Carton Council, approximately 30 cartons can create a single 2’x2’ ceiling tile, while about 400 cartons make up a piece of wallboard. Learn more about the carton recycling process from the Carton Council.

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